Joel Mowbray

As Bush nears his departure, the vast majority of Americans—left, right and center—have a multitude of reasons why they’re happy to see him go.

Liberals believe Bush cut taxes too much and had an unnecessarily muscular foreign policy. Conservatives feel betrayed by his profligate spending habits, and more recently, his admitted abandonment of free market principles in response to the financial crisis. Moderates got off the Bush bandwagon not long after many of them supported his 2004 re-election, with the primary concern being competence, both in dealing with Katrina and the near-implosion of Iraq.

As time passes and history begins shaping its eventual judgment, however, likely only one issue will truly matter: Iraq.

If Iraq in 5-10 years is a stable, safe and reasonably functioning democracy, early historical reviews would be hard-pressed to ignore Bush’s singular role in one of the greatest turnarounds in modern times.

No one should—and no historian will—forget his many blunders that helped plunge Iraq into the chaos that is barely behind us, but Bush boldly chose a path mocked by opponents and not entirely embraced by supporters. He overcame ferocious opposition against a Democratic-controlled Congress—one that had only wrested power from the GOP because Bush’s bungling of the Iraq war in the first place.

We take for granted now that the “surge” happened and it worked, but Bush might have been the unique leader willing to take such a gamble and muster every last bit of leverage he still possessed to enact the risky new approach. Fighting and winning on the “surge” highlighted a combination of Bush trademarks: stubbornness, defiance, self-confidence, but most of all, his greatly under-appreciated leadership.

Leader is not a label most would affix to Bush these days. He has had as little impact on the public debate and even policy decisions in recent months as any president could conceivably have. Yet the successful adoption of the surge proved that when Bush acted as a leader, he was effective—undeniably so. Even when Democrats finally controlled the House and Senate, Bush won most key battles.

Joel Mowbray

Joel Mowbray, who got his start with, is an award-winning investigative journalist, nationally-syndicated columnist and author of Dangerous Diplomacy: How the State Department Threatens America's Security.

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